Guitarist Martin Barre is best known, of course, for his lengthy tenure in Jethro Tull. He was alongside Tullmeister Ian Anderson from 1969's Stand Up, the unit's second long player, all the way to the band's demise in 2011. That's when Anderson decided to jettison the band and band name to tour and record under his own name, leaving Barre to do the same.
Cognizant of the fact that his name didn't stir the masses the way the Jethro Tull brand did despite several excellent solo albums, Barre decided to celebrate the band's career himself. Commemorating a half century of his work in the band, the two-disc set 50 Years of Jethro Tull hits both high and low points.
It's actually a bit of a jumble. The first disc features Dan Crisp on vocals, with both Barre and Crisp on guitars. Crisp's bluesy rock 'n' roll approach is quite appropriate for the hard-rocking "Steel Monkey," while "Hymn 43" is also dynamic and worth the price of admission.
Those songs, along with "Bungle in the Jungle" and "Songs From the Wood," are well-known to casual fans. The majority of the tracks on 50 Years of Jethro Tull, however, are lesser known - and that helps militate against direct comparisons. It's a good idea since ears which are so attuned to the originals with Anderson's voice out front might have a difficult time not feeling these updates are inferior. That's the challenge of so many alumni efforts, unless there's a distinct effort to change things up enough to delineate them from the classic versions.
In that regard, Disc Two of 50 Years of Jethro Tull is more successful, as the inclusion of Becca Langsford on lead vocals gives the tracks a completely different sound and feel. It's much like the Security Project, which reimagines the music of Peter Gabriel. Longtime Gabriel band drummer Jerry Marotta heads the band, much as Barre headlines this Tullish outfit.
The Security Project swapped out a male vocalist for frontwoman Happy Rhoades, and their music took on a new dimension. Same here. Langsford's versions of "Under Wraps," "Life Is a Long Song," and "Warchild" breathe new life into those chestnuts. An acoustic "Locomotive Breath" is a revelation, featuring Barre on mandolin.
What's not up for discussion is Martin Barre's mastery of the guitar. His crunching backgrounds and distinct lead lines are as scintillating as ever. That's when it's easy to close your eyes and imagine yourself at a Jethro Tull concert in the '70s, when the band was at its commercial peak. Even later tracks saw the band - and Barre - keeping its sense of what worked, despite the fact that styles were changing.
When Martin Barre and company remake the familiar or even the not-so-familiar, everything old does become new again.